Saturday, January 1, 2011

"As Drunk as David's Sow" with Poor Richard

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Susan reporting:

We hope that however festively you brought in the New Year, you didn't quite reach the excesses of these sea captains from colonial Rhode Island, above. However, if you did, and if you are searching for a genteel way to describe your condition, we suggest you peruse the Drinker's Dictionary compiled by Benjamin Franklin (1708-1790).

Originally published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1736, the Dictionary begins with an almanack observation by Poor Richard (aka Franklin) that there is "Nothing more like a Fool than a drunken Man", and then launches into dozens of 18th c. euphemisms for the same.

Are you feeling bowz'd? cherry merry? fetter'd? lappy? mountous? Perhaps you have poetically seen a Flock of Moons, or, more nautically, been Right before the Wind with all your Studding Sails Out? Or perhaps even had a Thump over the Head with Sampson's Jawbone? These and many more are to be found here, though Franklin admits that this is likely only a beginning: 

I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd: But upon Consideration, I fear'd being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, 'tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People.

Happy New Year to you all!

Above: detail, Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam by John Greenwood, c. 1752


Sarah Johnson said...

Those colonial New Englanders sure knew how to party.

A traveling exhibit on Franklin is opening at my university in a week, and I developed two smaller supporting exhibits to go along with it. It would've been interesting to do up a display case on this aspect of Franklin's writings, though I suspect it'd have been more popular with the students than the administration :)

nightsmusic said...

I had a very quiet New Year's eve, thank you very much. Can't necessarily say the same for my DDs...ah, the joys of youth. The false sense of invincibility...

Pauline said...

I love that sailors are the ones who get tagged for drunks. And, if I may in all fairness, it's not "David's sow" it's "Davees sow".

A point of argument, if you will.

Unknown said...

I love the old sayings and knowing where they came from. Saw two drinkers Dictionaries on Amazon. Are they the same? Happy New Year!!!

Deb said...

From my English childhood, I remember phrases such as "[number of] sheets to the wind," with the number increasing by the level of drunkeness: Someone who was "three sheets to the wind" was less drunk than someone who was "five sheets to the wind." Ah, these fine, nuanced gradations!

I also remember "drunk as a lord" and "pissed as a newt." Sorry for the bad language, but "pissed" always meant "drunk" in the patois of my East End youth.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sarah, here in Philadelphia, we see every aspect of old Ben - including many that are probably exaggerations/fictional. There's even a well-known freelancing impersonator who turns up at all the sporting events and similar events. Who knew that Benjamin Franklin was also a major NFL fan in his spare time?

Theo, sometimes it's just better not to know what the children are up to - esp. the older they get!

Pauline, you're right, sailors are always the drunkards. The curse of the transient, I guess. What I've always liked about this particular painting is that the "drunken sailors" are all captains and traders of the "better sort", and many have been identified as famous men of the time, including Joseph Wanton and Esek Hopkins. Here's more on the painting:

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

As for David's/Davee's sow - I just checked with several editions of Franklin's "Drinkers Dictionary", and all of them have "David's". Not that that's right or wrong, but it does seem to be what Ben used.

Also came across this version of the origin, from the ever-popular Capt. Gose's "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue"(1811):

"As drunk as David’s sow; a common saying, which took its rise from the following circumstance: One David Lloyd, a Welchman, who kept an alehouse at Hereford, had a living sow with six legs, which was greatly resorted to by the curious; he had also a wife much addicted to drunkenness, for which he used sometimes to give her due correction. One day David’s wife having taken a cup too much, and being fearful of the consequences, turned out the sow, and lay down to sleep herself sober in the stye. A company coming in to see the sow, David ushered them into the stye, exclaiming, there is a sow for you! did any of you ever see such another? all the while supposing the sow had really been there; to which some of the company, seeing the state the woman was in, replied, it was the drunkenest sow they had ever beheld; whence the woman was ever after called David’s sow."

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mary, I don't know about the dictionaries on Amazon. This one by Franklin wasn't a full-blown book, but just a column he wrote for his newspaper. That said, the piece is included in lots of books that collect his writing.

Deb, thank you for the English pov. Bad language or not, I remember "pissed" as meaning drunk in college, when spoken by would-be-bad American frat boys instead of sailors. Some things never do change!

Unknown said...

Thank you Susan for your reply!! I may get one of the two books as it would make for interesting reading and I am a nerdyhistorygirl at heart too so love things like that :-)
Have a great day!

Sarah Johnson said...

Susan, that's true, Ben is probably for your area what Lincoln is to mine! Funny thing is that our library spoke to the local (Philly) Franklin impersonator... I believe the going rate was too high to bring him in, though. We have another fellow coming in to be Ben for us next Wednesday night. Should be fun!

Great column; I'm learning lots of new vocab :)

Anonymous said...

Well, at least they were having fun --- doubt their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters were, though! Should this be part of the "Men Behaving Badly" series instead?

And "three sheets to the wind" is something I grew up hearing, and still hear today, in central North Carolina. Of course, here it means the same as "drunk as a skunk" ... ahem, that is, you know, very, very drunk. *grin*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mary, you're welcome. And the world cannot have too many nerdy history girls! :)

Sarah, it is amusing/strange how different areas seem to have their "pet" historical figure. I have a vague memory of seeing Paul Revere wandering about Boston as well. The odd thing about our local Ben (who probably is the same one you contacted) is that he is often paired with a Betsy Ross impersonator. While the real Betsy was a young woman in her flag-making heyday, this woman is, shall we say, of a later vintage, and she and Ben appear together like an 18th c. Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus. Good luck with your own Ben!

Bookishmiss, I did indeed tag this blog as "Men Behaving Badly"! I'm sure a good many of those stern old Yankee sea captains had a high old time far away from home, not only in the Caribbean like these examples, but off in the Pacific as well. Imagine those 19th c. whalers away at sea for years at a time, stopping off at tropical islands for r&r....!

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